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Hong Kong housing

Address the safety of Hong Kong lifts before there is yet another accident

After two serious incidents in five weeks, one fatal, it is time the government took a more effective approach to the upgrading of elevators

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 May, 2018, 4:34am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 May, 2018, 4:34am

Do nothing until absolutely necessary is typical of many government departments. After two serious lift accidents in five weeks, Hong Kong officials are finally considering a raft of short- and long-term measures to improve lift safety.

Lamentable as it is, they are necessary steps to ensure lifts are safe to use in our high-rise living environment. As the saying goes, it’s better late than never. The idea of mandatory upgrading for ageing lifts, along with financial subsidies for qualified recipients, should have been considered a long time ago. Currently, property owners in old buildings may apply for public funds to improve structural safety and fire safety installations.

But the level of subsidies may be insufficient to cover the upgrading of lifts. It is good to hear that financial incentives may be provided to help modernise lifts in old buildings, and there will be a study into whether to make upgrading compulsory in the long run.

That it has taken two serious accidents to prompt government action is to be regretted. In the first case in early April, a couple living in a Tsuen Wan high-rise were seriously injured when the 27-year-old lift they were in suddenly lost control and hit the roof.

On May 11, a 64-year-old woman died at a private housing estate in Sheung Shui after her leg was caught in a lift that had been in use for 26 years and she was dropped down the shaft.

Following the first accident, relatively serious wear and tear was found in the grooves of the traction sheaves or suspension ropes of three lifts of the same make. But officials maintained there was no safety problem.

Hong Kong lift safety upgrades eyed after woman dies in shaft at Sheung Shui housing estate

Statistically, the number of lift and escalator accidents may not seem alarming. Following a legislative revamp in 2012, numbers fell from 28 per year to fewer than eight. But when it comes to mechanical reliability, one fatality can shatter confidence.

Currently, 80 per cent of the city’s 66, 000 lifts are not equipped with the latest safety devices. The lack of compulsory upgrading gives little reason for compliance. So far only 5,200 lifts have been upgraded voluntarily, progress described as unremarkable by the government.

That leaves little choice but to bring about change through a more effective approach. Speaking at the Legislative Council on Wednesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor rightly acknowledged the need for more safeguards. She admitted that lift safety had remained an issue of public concern since the time when she was minister for development. As with our ageing buildings and population, our ageing lifts were also in need of better care, she said.

Addressing the problem with the right tone and a sense of urgency is the first step. Hopefully, it will not take more serious accidents to speed up reform that has been long overdue.